submitted by The Roxy Complex on 19.10.2012
Virgin Australia voyeur
Magazine, October 2012, Issue 135
AN ODE TO AUSTRALIA
In the towns, in the rustling of the trees and across the valley of northern NSW, you hear them - tales of man and country, as told through the verses of some of Australia's greatest poets.
Words: Catherine Marshall
The hills in northern New South Wales are stitched together with stories and populated by ghosts. They hum with the poetry of Banjo Patterson, who wooed a girl from Tenterfield, and stood alongside other Australian literary greats, William Ogilvie and Henry Lawson; they whisper the legend of Captain Thunderbolt, who stalked the gold diggers of Walcha stealing from the unwary and enticing the ladies with his charms; they reverberate with the tales or pioneers who travelled from Sydney and fanned out across this elevated hinterland, planting crops, opening cafes, digging up gold and putting down roots.
POETRY IN MOTION
"You've gotta like granite to live here," says Kevin Santin as we rattle along the road that winds through Bald Rock National Park just outside Tenterfield. Granite boulders litter this place and presiding over them all is Australia's largest granite chunk, Bald Rock, a weather-streaked monolith that stares out towards the brooding hills almost marking the border between New South Wales and Queensland.
Santin grew up nearby, but moved back only recently after half a lifetime away. Together with his wife Jenny, he's transformed the 100 year old Tenterfield Holiday Luxury Cottage - 121 Rouse St - www.tenterfieldcottage.com.au - into a bed and breakfast and settled back down Into the folds of a landscape he knows so well. I love it here; the climate, the beauty and the granite," he says.
Gazing across this rocky landscape, one can easily envisage the swagman from Paterson's Walzing Matilda setting up camp beneath a coolibah tree, putting his billy on to boil and eyeing out a fat woolly sheep as it picks its way through the rocks. This place may well have inspired Australia's most famous bush ballad, for its author spent much time here wooing his bride, Alice Walker of Tenterfield Station. The couple met when Patterson gave a talk in the local town hall; they married in the little wooden St Stephen's Presbyterian Church on Logan Street, which still stands today.
“He was a great horseman of course, so they'd pick out the best for him and they would go down to Boonoo Boonoo (pronounced bunna bannoo) and hunt," says John Sommerlad, who was born and raised in Tenterfield. One of his prized possessions is a copy of The Ballad of Boonoo Boonoo, which Paterson wrote after one such jaunt. “They'd come back and have lunch or afternoon tea, and he'd scribble out a poem for them. He'd just give us a gift.”
Paterson 's gift is revived each autumn when modern day bush poets gather in Tenterfield to take part in the Oracles of the Bush Festival (www.oraclesofthebush.com), evoking in their own words the idiosyncrasies that bring this place to life. It’s a region infused with tales like that of Santin's grandfather who left behind a wife and five children when he moved here from Italy in the 1920s. “He came to the land of milk and honey, and it took him 10 years to save up enough money to bring the family out.” Santin says, “My father was two when his father left Italy in 1928, and he didn't see him again until 1938.”
Most Italian immigrants stayed away from Tenterfield, with its supposedly good-for-nothlng soil, moving across the border to Stanthorpe instead, where their market gardens could flourish. But the Greek immigrants saw potential everywhere and set up cafes in little towns all over northern New South Wales. In Tenterfield Greek cafes very quickly outnumbered those run by Australians.
Today all traces of them has disappeared bar the shell of the old Paragon Cafe and the photos that tell a story all their own: the young employees, circa 1922, wearing white jackets an starched collars.”
There are some architectural gems that have managed to evade the ravages of time, such as the Eclipse Theatre, a faded art deco monument that stands proud and resolute in the tiny parish of Deepwater, and The Roxy Theatre & Greek Cafe (74 Maitland St, Bingara; www.roxybingara.com.au), a classic neon-fronted establishment built by Greek migrants back In 1936. lt closed in 1958 and lay dormant for 40 years.
Sandy McNaughton, the current manager of the Roxy, is overseeing the installation of a museum here that will document the contributions of the Greek community to rural Australian life. “This place epitomises the story of Greek immigration to New South Wales and southern Queensland. It made such an impact on Australia's culinary and cultural landscape,” she says.
LAND OF PLENTY
Tenterfield's landscape is also shaped by bushrangers runaway convicts and career criminals who survived by living off the land and stealing from t he local communities, and whose daring and recklessness often earnt them a grudging respect. Plus there were the many miners and drovers who dared to take on this untamed countryside. In the gullies around the area you can sometimes find empty opium bottles discarded by the Chinese miners who travelled to this part of Australia to seek their fortune.
“They’re empty of course!” chuckles Lynton Rhodes, a lifelong resident of this region. “The story goes that a lot of the gold was [smuggled] back to China in the bodies of dead miners.” Rhodes relates this :anecdote on the deck of his cellar door and restaurant at Kurrajong Downs Wines (Casino Rd. Tenterfield; +61 2 6736 4590; www.kurrajongdownswines.com), north of Tenterfield proper. From here, sample a local drop or two as you gaze past the beautiful old angophora tree and all the way down a valley that was once peppered with mines. The mines all gone now, but Rhodes, who also farms cattle, continues to extract the land's minerals.
“Blue granite is the best country out here for growing cattle - there's more body in the grass. You get tons of it around Tenterfield,” he explains. “And if there's a good profile of moisture there, the vines don't need much irrigation.”
This area produces cool-climate wines. The product of a slow maturation process. Their names, similarly, tell the story of a people and the land which wrought them: the Louisa Mary Semillon commemorates Rhodes's great aunt who died at the age of three and was carried from Sandy Hills to the mining town of Timbarra to be buried in its cemetery; while the All Nations, a pinot noir, takes its name from the pub at which the locals would gather each night. “People came from all over the world to try and get a strike. If they failed here they'd go to the next strike. It would have been a very interesting place to have been in those times,” says Rhodes.
All that's left of Timbarra now is a pile of foundation stones and Tenterfield Station lies desolate and overgrown. But the people who once lived here have left behind their stories: they flow off the tongues of local and bush poets; they warp the shelves of the Book Market in Glen Innes (245 Grey St; www.thebookmarket.com.au): Paterson’s High Country, Keith Garvey's Night of the Dingo, and Other Stories, and Wilbur Howcroft's, Omnibus, all stuffed full of bush stories and poems and songs. And they whistle softly through the vines, the angophora leaves and the tumbledown farmhouses in the dead of night, when nobody is awake to heart them.
To book your holiday to Tenterfield, visit www.virginaustralia.com or simply call 13 67 89 (in Australia).
Banjo Paterson, The Ballad of Boonoo Boonoo
Yes this is the ballad of Boonoo Boonoo,
Where the hills are green and the skies are blue;
And if you're fond of timber tall,
Or would like to see a waterfall,
That's a thousand feet from top to toe,
And hear the waters as down they go.
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